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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
CHAPTERS 1 - 2
The first two chapters of the novel give a vivid description of the state of Oceania under an authoritarian, single-party rule. The main character, Winston Smith, is living in what used to be called London before the Revolution. It is clear to the reader that he is not supportive of the totalitarian government of Oceania.
In Chapters 1 and 2, Winston Smith is shown struggling to write a diary away from the prying eyes of the telescreen installed in his flat. He reminisces about the incident that has occurred in the Ministry of Truth, where Winston works in the records department. That morning, during the 2-minute hate session, Winston sees O'Brien, one of the top officials of the Inner Party. While everyone during the hate session was shouting and screaming at Goldstein, the enemy and traitor to Oceania, Winston pauses for a moment and turns. For perhaps a second or two, his eyes meet with O'Brien's. Something in O'Brien's eyes makes Winston think that, like him, O'Brien is not a loyal party member.
While writing his diary, Winston is suddenly interrupted by his neighbor, Mrs. Parsons, who asks him to help her fix a pipe in her kitchen. Relieved that it was not the police, Winston goes over to the Parsons' flat, which is dirty and smelly. While leaving their flat, Winston is struck with a catapult by the Parsons' youngest son; he also accuses Winston of being a traitor. This makes Winston rather uneasy and he wonders if he is really safe from the thought police.
The novel opens with a description of the futuristic society of Oceania. It is a highly mechanized, unemotional state that is ruled by the iron hand of a single party dictatorship. Life in Oceania is not pleasant. The physical deprivation and the bomb attacks on the city where Winston lives bring to mind images of Soviet society and war-torn Britain. There are shortages of essential items, such as food, clothing, and razor blades, all of which have to be rationed, just as in Soviet society and war- torn Britain.
Winston Smith represents the loneliness and alienation of the individual in a monstrous society ruled by machines and telescreens, which govern every single aspect of life. It is a society that denies friendship, companionship, love, trust, and family ties. It is also a society where no one is allowed to think against or question the Ruling Party. Neighbors and children are taught to spy on others and report any improper behavior to the authorities. It is significant to note in Chapter 2 that the Parsons' youngest child attacks Winston and accuses him of being a traitor. Even the smallest children are brainwashed.
Since he cannot express himself openly in this society, Winston's diary becomes a medium in which he can pour out his innermost feelings against Oceania; but he must hide his writing from the telescreen, or the diary will be confiscated and destroyed and Winston will be punished. Having spent his childhood during the days preceding the revolution, Winston looks back in nostalgically. He knows that those days were different, "a time when thought is free, where men are different from one another and do not live alone." Winston longs for such freedom again.
Winston works at The Ministry of Truth, a branch of the government whose name is totally ironic; it is the propaganda machine of the party. It is here that facts, information, and the past are altered to fit the ideas of the Party. If needed, people, places, and events are simply erased permanently. It is obvious that the party wants to maintain control over the masses through both physical force and mind control.
Even in these first two chapters, it is obvious that Winston is not a supporter of the politics or practices of the Ruling Party. He hates being monitored by the telescreen, resents being hit and called a traitor by the young Parson child, and dislikes the human anonymity in which he lives at home and at work. He also believes that O'Brien, a government official, is really not a loyal party member, just like him; that is why Winston identifies with him. It is important to note O'Brien's name. First, no first name is given; as an important member of the Inner Party, he does not need one. In addition, O'Brien is also an Irish name. Perhaps Orwell has chosen it to show the truly classless nature of this society or to reflect some personal feeling about the Irish, since this is the man who will betray and torture his protagonist.
Winston knows that he would be punished, probably killed, for his "thoughtcrimes" if they were suspected or detected. At this point in the novel, however, he believes that no suspicion is cast upon him. Winston is wrong in this judgment, as he will often be in the novel.